Saturday, May 17, 2014

Name Changer | Pentecost 2014

Text for meditation: Matthew 16 and Romans 12.

Grace, Mercy, and Peace to you from God, the Father, and Christ Jesus, our Lord. Amen.
All these words, hear them with your ears. But, receive them in your hearts.

Name Changer

Early in the morning, as the sun was still rising, Jesus went to the temple. Suddenly, there was a commotion. A young woman, barely clothed and screaming was dragged in by her hairand thrown to the ground. She had been caught in the act of adultery. Upon seeing this, what do you think Jesus’ face looked like?

The Pharisees who had dragged the poor woman into the temple asked Jesus, “What do you say about this woman’s adultery?” They hoped to test him, to evoke some unholy emotion within him, to make him act against his beliefs. Instead, he bent down and began to draw in the dirt.

They continued to pester him. Finally, he stood back up and told them that whoever has no sin should cast the first stone. After saying this, he bent back down, and drew once again on the ground. As he drew, the accusers walked away, dropping their stones. Jesus was left alone with the woman. He looked at her, with tears running down her face and horror in her eyes, she cowered away from his gaze. But, he said to her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” With a whimper in her quiet voice she replied, “No one, Lord.” Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you; go, and sin no more.” She left. Jesus left. But, the stones remained.

I thought it would be neat to take a moment here and just think about the power of stones. I know, they are something so simple. They lay in the dirt, lifeless. [Bring some rocks in for illustration] But, here, they are a cause of terror. They bear fear, anguish, and death. They are something so simple, yet in this circumstance they are crucial. Here, take one, hold it in your hand.

Stones are what made up the Pyramids, a marvelous wonder. They are the blocks which formed the Great Wall of China, a structure that can be seen from outer space. But, do you realize the cost of both of those buildings? Who can say how many slaves and workman died creating the Pyramids? Around 400,000 died in the making of the Great Wall, many of whom had been buried beneath its bricks. Stones were later used to create the Berlin Wall, a wall of separation. And, in the story of the adulteress, stones were almost used to slay. Stones seem so powerless, but in certain hands they can become either a secure foundation or an agent of death.

The Gospel reading for today is from Matthew Chapter 16. That entire chapter discusses stones. First, the Pharisees demand a sign; their hearts are hardened and they desire a way to build a secure foundation. Like the Pyramids, they wanted to be able to build up their own belief system, brick by brick. Instead, Jesus explains that they do not understand the things that have already been revealed to them. They will receive no other sign except the sign of Jonah.

Later, Jesus warns his followers not to think like the Pharisees. They do not need to build up their own brick house of beliefs; they solely needed to trust in him. Here, instead of the condescending tone that the Pharisees had used with Jesus to ask him “What do you say about this woman’s adultery?” Jesus asks in a gentler way, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?”

He gets various replies: John the Baptist, Elijah, Jeremiah, or one of the other prophets. Those are the conclusions that others had built up to for themselves. Then, comes the true test. Jesus brings the question home. Instead of asking who “they” think he is, he asks, “Who do you say I am?”

Peter answers him, “You are the Christ the Son of the living God.”

Do you realize what has happened here? The rock cried out. Simon, the man Jesus had renamed “Peter,” which means “stone” or “rock,” was able to answer him with the truth. Jesus responds that Peter is blessed, calling him by his birth name, “Simon Bar-Jonah!” Simon the son of Jonah, Simon whose father was named after the prophet of the same sign Jesus would give to the Pharisees, he is blessed. Peter’s rock-solid confession is commended. It is on a rock that the Church will be built.

But, is the rock Peter? I know you know the answer is “No.” Roman Catholicism has founded its papacy on this passage. But, we realize that the name Peter is masculine singular while this “rock” the Church is to be built on is feminine singular, implying a different referent. The Church is not built on Simon, the son of Jonah.

In fact, the next part of the chapter explains why not. Remember how it continues, Jesus begins to explain to the disciples what will happen in Jerusalem. He tells them that he must suffer, be killed, and on the third day rise again. This is when Peter rebukes him. Some commentators remark that perhaps Peter was too shocked by the fact that Jesus had to die to hear the last part of his teaching, he did not realize that Jesus was explaining that he would also live. I do not know whether this is true or not. But, the fact remains, that Peter’s heart skips beat and he becomes flustered swearing that this should never happen to Jesus Christ, the Son of the living God.

Jesus then calls him Satan. He warns the man who he had blessed to get behind him saying, “You are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man… If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. Whoever would save his life will lost it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.”

Do you see what had happened? The man who had known the truth, revealed by the Father, Peter, he had begun to build his own house. Like the Pharisees, he intended to construct a Great Wall, he had decided for himself what should be and what should not be. He let himself become the discerning rock instead of standing on the rock of his foundation, the rock the Church stands on, its cornerstone, Jesus Christ.

We do the same thing Peter did every day. Whenever we rely on ourselves, our own hearts, our lusts, and our wills, we shy away from God. We build man-made masterpieces without realizing the cost. This particular cost is more than just our lives For, what can a man give in return for his life? What profit is there if he gains the whole world and loses his soul? There is none.

But, we still misuse stones all the time. We throw them at the adulteress. When we see sin, is our first instinct to help or condemn them? If you see a homosexual, a transgender, a pothead, or someone struggling in a different sin, what goes through your mind? Do you pull out a Bible verse and shout it at her? Or is your hand clenching the stone of condemnation, because this person creeps you out. You insist on getting rid of the sinner, not just the sin.

Sometimes we clutch the stones that hurt and become consumed by the proper understanding of theology. We twist and turn our words so that the Word becomes more of a means than an end in itself. We hurl rocks at the problems we see and we sow divisions.

But, look at the stone differently. Imagine the rock rolled away from Jesus’ tomb. You have a piece of it. Now the rock is a symbol of the promise. This is the sign of Jonah. The rock is not a weapon or a wall of separation. But, the promise of the resurrection and forgiveness of our sins. We are built on the solid rock, the cornerstone of Christ, we become brickwork. It is not up to us to form the foundation, but to be formed by the foundation. We let our condemning stones drop at the foot of Christ. We have become living stones, transformed by Christ.

In Peter’s letter, he explains that with Jesus Christ as our rock, we become living stones. We “put away all malice and deceit, hypocrisy and envy, and all slander… As you come to Him, we are living stones. We may be rejected by others, but in the sight of God, we are chosen and precious. We build up a spiritual house and a holy priesthood in order to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.” Peter, of all people, knows what this entails. He had been given his name, “the Rock” in order that he may share the name with us. The church is a nation of rocks. In one of CFW Walther’s sermons, the theologian insists that we are “rock-men.” We have been given the responsibility to let Jesus work through us.

What if when Jesus knelt down and drew in the dirt, he was remembering the dirt that had been breathed form man so long ago? As he hears these heartless accusations and name-callings, as he listens to the reproof of the Pharisees, as he holds himself back from giving into their pestering, maybe he was thinking of what man had been meant for. He sees the living stones they could have been. Imagine his face. We have been given that face. We are carved from that cornerstone. We are meant to bear his name. We are rocks built on The Rock. And, no longer are our hands clutching the rocks of condemnation, but have been formed as living rocks in the hands of our Lord, Jesus Christ.

Now may the peace that passes all our understanding, guard our hearts and minds by the formation of Christ Jesus. Amen.